may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Matter of:
Mary Elizabeth Dean, petitioner,
John Phillip MacMaster,
Filed October 7, 1997
Ramsey County District Court
File No. F8932347
Mary E. Dean, 168 East Sixth Street, #3801, St. Paul, MN 55101 (respondent pro se)
David Gronbeck, Law Offices of David Gronbeck, 701 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 1700, Minneapolis, MN 55415, and
D. Graham C. Clark, Jr., 614 Portland Avenue, Suite 110, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Parker, Judge, and Short, Judge.
Appellant John MacMaster challenges a post-decree order modifying child support to the guidelines amount. He argues the Full Faith and Credit Clause precludes the district court from modifying a child support award where (1) the parties' stipulated agreement provides for a specific amount of post-majority support and (2) the statutory authority of the state rendering the original dissolution decree does not allow for modification of post-majority awards.
Respondent Mary Dean argues that the district court erred in failing to deviate upward in the support award and in not awarding attorney fees. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
In deciding issues of law, appellate courts are not bound by the trial court's conclusions and may make independent determinations. Gibson v. Baxter, 434 N.W.2d 486, 487 (Minn. App. 1987). This court reviews the district court's findings of fact under the "clearly erroneous" standard. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984); see Moylan v. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d 859, 864 (Minn. 1986) (clearly erroneous means against logic and the facts on the record).
1. MacMaster argues that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution precludes the district court from increasing the child support award where the increase will affect the amount of his post-majority support obligation. He contends the parties' stipulated settlement agreement set post-majority support at $300 per month, giving him the option to pay the support directly to his daughter upon her reaching age 18. He claims that because post-majority support is a contractual obligation and not required under either Virginia or Minnesota statutes, the district court was without power to increase the child support amount. Therefore, he argues, the district court's modification of the child support award was in error.
Dean registered the Virginia judgment and decree in Minnesota in 1993 under the then-effective Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (RURESA). Where a child support judgment is subject to modification in the rendering court, "it need not be afforded full faith and credit." Arora v. Arora, 351 N.W.2d 668, 671 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Oct. 11, 1984) (quoting Matson v. Matson, 310 N.W.2d 502, 505 (Minn. 1981)); see Va. Code Ann. § 20-108 (Michie 1995) (court may modify child support awards after reviewing circumstances of the parents and needs of the children).
Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2 (1996), provides in part:
The terms of an order respecting maintenance or support may be modified upon a showing of * * * (1) substantially increased or decreased earnings of a party, * * * which makes the terms unreasonable.
In determining child support obligations, the district court must consider numerous other factors. See Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(c) (1996). Trial courts are given broad discretion in determining whether to modify child support orders. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d at 864. Generally, stipulations do not limit a court's discretion to modify child support. See Polk County Social Services v. Clinton, 459 N.W.2d 362, 365 (Minn. App. 1990) (existence of stipulation does not prevent modification if substantial change established).
Child support relates to nonbargainable interests of children and is less subject to restraint by stipulation than other dissolution matters.
Compart v. Compart, 417 N.W.2d 658, 662 (Minn. App. 1988).
Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4a (1996), provides:
Unless a court order provides otherwise, a child support obligation * * * terminates * * * upon the emancipation of the child .
When a decree provides jurisdiction over support until age 21, the trial court may modify that obligation at its discretion, either by increasing or decreasing the amount. Katz v. Katz, 408 N.W.2d 835, 838-39 (Minn. 1987) (recognizing this as a correct statement of law and affirming Katz v. Katz, 380 N.W.2d 527 (Minn. App. 1986)). Where the decree provides such jurisdiction, the trial court has the discretion to order guideline support for children ages 18 through 21. Id.
The district court found the parties' stipulated agreement, incorporated into the final divorce decree, provided child support for their daughter until age 21. On review of appropriate statutory authority and the obligor's income and expenses, the district court ordered child support at the guideline amount of $1,408.75 per month.
We note that MacMaster made much of the fact that our courts give great deference to stipulations that provide for awards of child support. This argument, however, is misplaced. Minnesota courts accord greater deference to stipulations that govern awards of maintenance; however, stipulations regarding child support do not preclude modification by the district court. Compart, 417 N.W.2d at 662; see also Murray v. Murray, 425 N.W.2d 315, 318 (Minn. App. 1988) (maintenance stipulations more subject to restraint from modification than child support stipulations). Furthermore, the parties' stipulation provided in part:
The husband agrees to pay to the wife three hundred dollars ($300.00) per month for the maintenance, support and education of said child. Said payments to begin on the 8th day of July, 1981, and to continue each and every month thereafter until the child receives her baccalaureate degree, attains the age of twenty-one (21) years, marries, or is deceased, whichever occurs first. After said child reaches eighteen (18) years, the husband, at his election, may make the said payments directly to said child. Said amount of child support is to be adjusted annually each July to reflect the increase percentage of the husband's salary or wages for the previous year, or the rate of inflation determined by the previous year's Consumer Price Index, whichever of the two is lesser.
(Emphasis added.) We are persuaded by the language of the agreement that the parties recognized and anticipated that the child support award would be subject to modification based on the increasing income of the obligor and the needs of the child. We conclude, therefore, that the trial court did not abuse discretion in modifying the child support award. We further observe that MacMaster did not raise the Full Faith and Credit Clause below, and that issue is not now properly before this court. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (issues not raised at trial are not considered on appeal).
2. Dean argues that the district court erred in failing to deviate upward in awarding child support. She contends their daughter has not been able to enjoy a higher standard of living because of expenses. She also claims that MacMaster has considerable disposable income that should enhance their daughter's standard of living. Dean also argues that she is entitled to attorney fees. She contends that MacMaster purposely delayed the trial proceedings, which caused unnecessary expenses.
The trial court has wide discretion to determine support. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d at 864. A deviation from the guidelines must be supported by the statutory factors. See Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(c) (setting forth factors to be considered in determining whether to deviate from guidelines). We review this issue to determine if there has been an abuse of that discretion.
In his findings, the district court reviewed the financial circumstances of both parties. He then concluded that support for the parties' daughter should be set at the guideline amount of $1,408.75, based on MacMaster's income.
On this record, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused discretion in refusing to deviate upward from the guidelines. Absent evidence to support that the child's reasonable and necessary living expenses are not being met, Dean has not shown that an upward deviation is warranted as required by Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(c). No evidence of special needs was presented to the district court; therefore, such evidence is not properly before this court on appeal. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.01 (record on appeal is limited to those items filed with district court); Thiele, 425 N.W.2d 582-83 (appellate court cannot base decision on evidence not presented to district court).
Granting of attorney fees is largely at the discretion of the district court. Solon v. Solon, 255 N.W.2d 395, 397 (Minn. 1977). The district court determined that neither party was entitled to attorney fees. The record shows that MacMaster has income available to him to pay his expenses. The record also shows that Dean, an attorney, represented herself on appeal and before the trial court. We cannot conclude, therefore, that the district court's failure to award attorney fees constitutes an abuse of discretion.
[ ]1 Minn. Stat. §§ 518C.01-.36 (RURESA) as repealed January 1, 1995, and replaced by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (Minn. Stat. §§ 518C.101-.902) in 1995.
[ ]2 "Child" is defined as "an individual under 18 years of age, an individual under age 20 who is still attending secondary school, or an individual who, by reason of physical or mental condition, is incapable of self-support." Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2 (1996).